News consumption in a networked world

If you read any pieces on the future of news, and especially, the future of newspapers, in my experience, most of them point out that newspapers are dead dinosaurs, clinging onto life in a world they don’t understand, flailing desperately to protect their revenue models, trying to find ways to get people to pay for news content online that the newspapers have previously given away free online (with some advertising support) in a desperate bid to keep their ways above water. Occasionally, there will be a battle about copyrights with aggregators – Google News doesn’t operate in Spain at the moment, for example, or clipping services.

Print sales are dropping for a lot of publications and income from digital advertising isn’t even going to come close to replacing lost income from print based advertising. The picture of life for newspapers is a grey and dying one, it seems.

I tend not to buy newspapers. Part of it is I’m a child of the connected era, and I’ve been reading papers online for well over 15 years; another part of it is that none of the Irish broadsheets, with the possible exception of the Examiner, really appeals to me. The Sunday Independent has a bunch of writers who don’t so much as “not appeal to me” as definitively drive me away from the newspaper. So I operated a pick and mix thing with newspapers online. And I customised Google News and I followed a lot of media outlets on Facebook.

In truth, I used to see the internet as the great white hope for someone like me. I speak multiple languages and the internet gives me access to multiple news services in those multiple languages. But I can’t customise Google News to handle news sources in multiple languages. It is getting to the stage where I’m going to give up on it. Facebook, in some respects, is better. I can follow any number of organisations on Facebook, and media wise, that includes but is not limited to several German, multiple times that several French, and some Finnish language services in addition to the New York Times, The New Yorker and the Atlantic. But I don’t really get to choose what I read either which way. Facebook tinkers around with their newsfeed algorithm on a regular basis and Google is simply uninteresting as an interface.

I started thinking in detail about how I – and I hate this term – “consume” news, and how people consume news. News is compelling, and particularly, happening now news is compelling. But the recent events in Paris made it clear that even while news is happening, there are big swathes of time in the middle when NOTHING is actually changing, then moments of utter confusion while people try to work out what has changed in the 10 seconds between swathes of time when NOTHING is actually happening. I found this with passenger aircraft going missing. Rolling news often isn’t so much rolling news as rolling guesswork and misinformation. Mostly now, I prefer summary reports.

This is true in terms of rolling news on the television. I find it utterly frustrating because while it’s on for 24 hours, the number of news stories it covers seems to be significantly less than the amount of news stories that you would get in a 30 minute summary on, say, Channel 4.

What I’ve noticed, however, is that between all the news services I have access to, I don’t believe I am anywhere near as as informed as I used to be. I also have realised that I don’t actually like navigating news online all that much, and similarly, am not such a great fan of dedicated applications on tablets or phones either. It is entirely possible that this is a function of how I learned to acquire news in the first place; namely by lying on my stomach as a child with the newspaper spread out on the floor in front of me. That double page spread seemed to offer so many possibilities.

The internet should as well but it’s not as easy to navigate I think because far fewer of the possibilities present themselves to you on a single page. For all the access to more material, I find it less easy to find. In some respects, some form of curation is nice, but neither Facebook nor Google are doing well on that front, although to be fair, Facebook are doing significantly better on that front; I’d just like to be able to split my newsfeed into a feed of media based links and a feed of status updates from my friends. I’d equally like them not to bother refeeding me links that are 5 and 6 days old. I saw one Le Monde report on the Charlie Hebdo shootings every day for almost a week after the shootings happened.

So I started wondering how I could change this and decided that it probably would be a good idea to start buying newspapers again, and specifically, a couple of different newspapers, from different countries. I specifically wanted them in paper format for various reasons, and up front, the choices were to be the weekend Financial Times, the weekend Le Monde, mainly because I didn’t think it would be possible to get Le Monde Diplomatique, and Die Zeit. I know there is no Irish paper in there but the one thing I have felt well informed on over the past 5 years are Irish matters. Sometimes too well informed.

As it happens, it looks like this is going to be a bit of a quest. It transpires that Easons on Nassau Street does stock (at least last on Thursday of last week) Le Monde Diplomatique but it’s a monthly paper so I suspect I will be looking at that one week, and the weekend Le Monde the rest of the weeks. None of the four branches of Easons I was in had Die Zeit, and again, only the branch on Nassau Street had any German newspaper, which is why I’ve been reading Frankfurter Allgemeine. My local branch of Easons had two copies of the FT last Saturday morning so if you went to the one in Omni and found it gone, I’m sorry. I did enjoy reading it though.

So this week, I have learned that Harz is now a good place to go if you’re looking to learn to ski again, and I’m quite pleased about that because the last time I went skiing, it was in the Harz mountains. And just because you’re reading the Financial Times doesn’t mean you’re away from celebrity divorce battles. Mind you, not too many reality TV stars play for the high stakes of a fortune totalling over 400 million pounds sterling.

I haven’t gotten to Le Monde Diplo yet though.

In the meantime, I’m looking at finding a way to curate news reports more effectively for myself across languages. Under┬áthe About Treasa there will shortly be a list of news media sites mainly because I can’t rely on any of the aggregators to supply accidental serendipity about stuff.